DOOM TO THE BONE
Recently this publication featured an interview I had done with Ron Holzner, ex-Trouble bassist who currently plays with both The Skull and Earthen Grave. The phone interview had taken place as The Skull members were chilling out in preparation for a gig later that day. To bring all readers up to speed, The Skull was formed around 2011 by three former members of Trouble: Ron, vocalist Eric Wagner and drummer Jeff ‘Oly’ Olson. The band’s repertoire consists of Trouble songs, “The Skull” is the title of Trouble’s 2nd album.
This interview focuses on the brief conversation I had with vocalist Eric Wagner, currently singing with both The Skull and Blackfinger. But before Eric came to the phone, Ron reminisced on his time with Trouble...
Ron: It taught me a lot. I made a lot of friends around the world, it opened doors…..it was something really special. At the time we were just having fun and trying to play and rock and do the best music we could. We didn’t realise it was a bigger thing than it actually was. Now it has an almost legendary status and I’m like ‘Wow! I was actually part of that’. It was awesome. It helped me as a musician and now it made me yearn to produce, to write, to do everything myself – which I got to do with Earthen Grave. I got to produce the record – something I’m really happy with.
Same thing with Eric. He’s producing stuff. He’s got his band Blackfinger and he’s produced their record. We learnt a lot about production from Rick Rubin, who had produced the last 2 Trouble records. He’s a strange character but we leant a lot from him…..about arranging songs, putting them in different formats…..about the whole production process. Even Bruce [Franklin – Trouble guitarist] is producing a record which is coming out very soon. So we’re all trying our hands at producing right now. [laughs] It’s a good thing.
[Ron and I discussed the friendship that characterises the Doom Metal scene.]
Ron: It’s like we’re all in it together. Which we are, you know. And that’s kind of why we started The Skull, because I had been hearing from the Trouble fans: ‘Why don’t you do something together. We want to hear the old songs that Trouble doesn’t play or hardly ever plays.’ And I said, well, we’ll see if we can do that. And after joking about it with the guys, we decided to put together The Skull. We were just doing it as a side thing because I’ve got Earthen Grave and Eric has Blackfinger. But it really took off and people are responding well to it.
With The Skull you play Trouble songs so I’m guessing it’s more of a live band and won’t be doing any recordings…..
Ron: Actually we’ve going to record a record in October and already have a label involved.
Will you be recording original numbers?
Ron: Yeah, we’ve got a bunch of original songs and we’re thinking of doing half and half. Maybe do one side of Trouble songs and one side of studio songs. I can’t really go too much into it until we have the official announcement toward the end of July but it’s looking very good.
[At the end of our conversation Ron Holzner went to call Eric to come to the phone. It transpired that Eric had been sleeping, but he still seemed happy to talk.]
Hi, Eric. I’m sorry to have woken you up.
Eric: Oh that’s OK. I had just laid down for a second and I didn’t even know I had fallen asleep.
[Eric’s voice sounds so deep and powerful that I’m taken aback. And that’s how he sounds when he’s just woken up….let alone when he starts singing!]
So you’re preparing for a gig with The Skull tonight, is that right?
Eric: That’s right. We’ll be playing in Chicago.
I believe that is where you’re based...
Eric: Yep, it’s going to be a hometown gig.
How should fans view The Skull? Is it a tribute band? A Trouble re-union? Or band with a separate entity?
Eric: Well…I don’t know. I mean we were working on our own projects at the time. It actually started out as a joke by me and Ron and Oly. We were at a Doom festival at Milwaukee a couple of years ago and we all went up and did a few songs. So I sent an e-mail to them and tried to be funny and said that we should start a tribute band. They were, like ‘What d’you mean?’ I said ‘A tribute to Trouble. I look and sound just like their singer. And you guys look like their bass player and drummer…the resemblance is scary!’
The next thing I knew we were standing on stage playing in front of 2000 people and things snowballed from there. It’s been fun doing it. It’s been fun playing some of the old songs again because the last time I was in Trouble we weren’t doing those songs any more. So, yes, it’s been a lot of fun playing them again together.
Eric, what happened between yourself and Trouble? I believe you had already recorded the vocal tracks before you ceased to be part of Trouble, right?
Eric: You mean the new one? [“The Distortion Field”]
Eric: No. I haven’t been with them now for…jeez, it must have been 4 or 5 years. I did “Simple Mind Condition” with them and then…I don’t know…I was tired of playing the same songs. I just wanted to do something different. I’ve been working on my own record as Blackfinger for the last few years. It’s just about done now. It should be out pretty soon. Maybe in a month or so. It’s recorded and almost mixed. Just about done.
Who is playing with you in Blackfinger?
Eric: Well I actually put together some guys that I grew up with. Kinda guys from the same area that I knew and that were in bands and stuff. And I had a lot of fun working with them, you know. I wrote the songs and it was a lot of fun recording the album. No problems. No assholes. No nothing. I’m really proud of the record and I can’t wait for it to come out.
Speaking about The Skull, is Oly still involved with The Skull?
Eric: No, he’s out. He ended up quitting before we even did our first show last year. I don’t really know why really but we just carried it on without him. It’s not the first time he did that. We had shows booked and we didn’t want to disappoint everybody.
Tonight we have a show in Chicago and we’re also working on new songs, so there’s soon gonna be a Skull record. But tonight we’re going to play one of the new songs – it will be the first time we’ll have played it so I’m kinda exited about it. After this gig I don’t think we have any shows booked until October so as The Skull we’ll be working on the new songs for a little while and record them later on.
What do Bruce and the rest of Trouble think of what you and Ron are doing with The Skull?
Eric: [laughs] Well, you know I don’t really know. I don’t really talk to Rick [Wartell, Trouble guitarist] much. Bruce [Franklin, Trouble guitarist], I grew up with so we keep in contact now and then. He didn’t say anything. They’re doing their thing with Trouble and they’re gonna do a record on their own and that’s fine. I don’t care. And I’m gonna do this.
Like I said, it was fun going out doing all the old songs, we'll continue to do that and we’re going to write some new ones too. I love the playing of the guitar players of The Skull. They’ve been playing together for 25 years and they do a great job with the songs.
Could you remind me who the other The Skull band members are, besides Ron?
Eric: Sure. The guitar players’ names are Lothar Keller and Michael Carpenter. They were just friends of ours from Chicago and when we were looking for guitar players Lothar’s name came up and he had a friend called Michael who he grew up with. I though it was perfect because they were friends, they got along well together, they’ve practiced together for many years. You know, there were a couple times on stage when I’ve closed my eyes when I’m singing and I forgot it’s not Rick and Bruce. Obviously it’s not exactly them but their playing is pretty close to that of Rick and Bruce.
And who’s playing drums with The Skull?
Eric: Right now it’s a friend of ours named Kevin Tarpey. We’ll see what happens there. Like I said, when Oli left Kevin just helped us out.
I’d like to ask a couple more questions about Trouble’s music. Over the years Trouble’s music went through a variety of changes, from the Metal sounding first 2 albums, though the atmospheric and progressive “Run To The Light” until the last few albums which had a slight inclination towards Stoner Doom. As a vocalist, did you ever have any difficulty in adapting your singing through these changes?
Eric: No, actually. I mean Once we got to the “Run To The Light”  record, the Def American records, I got more involved in the music, in the arrangements of the songs and the writing. Probably it might have even fit my style a little more, I think. I grew up listening to The Doors and The Beatles and Pink Floyd and stuff like that. When I met Bruce, he was more into Sabbath and Deep Purple….which I was too. You know…you progress, you change, you want to do different things instead of doing the same old thing. I get bored very easily so I like doing new things, working on different kinds of music. I mean all the albums still sounded like Trouble, you know what I mean…..
Yeah, the sound was always recognisable although the band worked with various ideas.
Eric: Yeah, we started working with bigger people, like Rick Rubin, from whom we learnt a lot and by the time we got to “Plastic Green Head”  we were doing things by ourselves. After “Simple Mind Condition” I had taken a long lay-off. I like that record, I’m really proud of it. It took a long time to do but I had fun doing it.
Somewhere I read that Oli was planning to re-record “Run To The Light”….do you know about that?
Eric: Well, he had left before we had entered the studio to record that album. Like I said earlier, it wasn’t the first time that he left. [laughs] It was kind of an ‘in-between’ album. We were searching for something a little bit different. “Run To The Light” was kind of a bridge between the first 2 albums the Def American albums.
What exactly was going on within the band after “Plastic Green Head” was released?
Eric: Well, at that point we were out on tour a lot. We had just got off the road. It’s the same thing as now in that I had my own songs that didn’t fit in with Trouble and I wanted to do my own record back then. I did the Lid album and then I just ran away from the music business. For a couple of years I was kind of tired of the music business and I needed a break.
What are you looking forward to in the next few months?
Eric: Like I said, after tonight’s show I’m going to go back home and I’m just going to take the rest of the Summer to write. I’ve got 6 songs written already and I just want to continue to do that. Apart from tonight’s gig, that’s really all I’m doing right now, I’m writing new songs.
When will we see you in Europe again?
Eric: Probably in the Spring, unless something happens before that. We want to get the record out before that. We’ve got a few dates in the West coast in October. We’re also going to start recording in October. So the record should be out early next year.
That’s sounds excellent. Eric, is what’s your favourite part of being in a band?
Eric: My favourite part of being in a band is writing new songs.
So you enjoy the creative side, not just the performance side?
Eric: Well, the performance side is fun but after a while…..I mean you can only party for so much, you know. So yeah, the creative side is my favourite part of being in a band. Working in a studio and writing new stuff.
Ok. Eric, it was a pleasure speaking to you.
Eric: Same here.
I look forward to hearing the new record from The Skull.
Eric: Me too. I am too. [laughs]
Best wishes for all your music projects.
Eric: Nice talking to you. Bye.
© 2013 Chris Galea
Current THE SKULL line-up:
Current BLACKFINGER line-up:
· ERIC WAGNER curriculum:
THE SKULL -
vocals (1979 - 2010)
PROBOT - vocals (2003)
Interviewed by Chris Galea